White House

No to an Emergency

President Donald Trump speaks near the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, January 10, 2019. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

President Trump says he is considering declaring an emergency at the border to unlock military funds to build a fence (a.k.a. wall).

It’s not clear how serious he is, although anonymous White House aides have been quoted saying they believe this will be his ultimate way out of the shutdown fight.

It’s a terrible idea. Even if it’s legal — which is unclear, at best — it would represent another unwelcome step in America’s long march toward unilateral government by the executive.

The problem isn’t declaring an emergency. There is ample authority to do that and we live under a couple of dozen little-noticed declarations of emergency that have accumulated over the decades. The issue is redirecting military funds to the border fence. That would require a strained interpretation that treats the border fence as a military matter, among other legal gymnastics.

Even if there are troops at the border currently, no one has seriously thought of it in military terms since the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. The border is beset not by an invading army but largely by Central American migrants who surrender to authorities at the first opportunity because they know we will usually allow them to stay in the country under our perverse immigration rules.

The proximate cause of the attempt to redirect funds under emergency powers wouldn’t be radically new circumstances at the border. There has been a simmering crisis there for a long time. It would be a failure to get Congress to appropriate the funds the president wants during a political fight and negotiations.

Legalities aside, this would be a very bad practice. It’s an offense against the spirit of our system for a president to fail to get he wants from Congress — in a dispute involving a core congressional power, spending — and then turn around and exploit a tenuous reading of the law to try to get it anyway.

We know this seems increasingly quaint, especially after President Obama’s pen-and-phone governance in his second term, but we believe presidents have an obligation to honor the role of the respective branches of government, even when it’s not in their political interest, even when there seems to be a clever workaround.

An attempt to spend unilaterally on the fence would almost certainly get tied up in the courts immediately. In the most favorable scenario for the administration, it eventually prevails in a Supreme Court loath to second-guess even dubious military-related determinations by the commander-in-chief. In the meantime, the administration will have built nothing new on the border and created another precedent for unilateral government sure to be exploited the next time a Democrat occupies the White House.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular

Culture

White Cats and Black Swans

Making a film of Cats is a bold endeavor — it is a musical with no real plot, based on T. S. Eliot’s idea of child-appropriate poems, and old Tom was a strange cat indeed. Casting Idris Elba as the criminal cat Macavity seems almost inevitable — he has always made a great gangster — but I think there was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Other Case against Reparations

Reparations are an ethical disaster. Proceeding from a doctrine of collective guilt, they are the penalty for slavery and Jim Crow, sins of which few living Americans stand accused. An offense against common sense as well as morality, reparations would take from Bubba and give to Barack, never mind if the former ... Read More
Health Care

The Puzzling Problem of Vaping

San Francisco -- A 29-story office building at 123 Mission Street illustrates the policy puzzles that fester because of these facts: For centuries, tobacco has been a widely used, legal consumer good that does serious and often lethal harm when used as it is intended to be used. And its harmfulness has been a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

May I See Your ID?

Identity is big these days, and probably all days: racial identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc. Tribalism. It seems to be baked into the human cake. Only the consciously, persistently religious, or spiritual, transcend it, I suppose. (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor ... Read More
World

Wolf Warrior II Tells Us a Lot about China

The Chinese economy is taking a big hit as a result of the trade war with the U.S: A leading export indicator has fallen several months in a row, Chinese companies postponed campus recruitment, and auto and housing sales dropped. A number of U.S. manufacturers are moving production outside of China. So ... Read More